The International Court of Justice hears allegations of genocide against Myanmar’s military regime, July 22, 2023. Credit: The International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice has extended two deadlines for written arguments in a complaint filed by the West African nation of Gambia alleging that Myanmar’s military carried out genocide against minority Rohingya Muslims.
The Muslim-majority nation — mainland Africa’s smallest country — accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention during a military campaign in 2017, during which thousands of Rohingya are estimated to have died.
The Hague-based court on Oct. 16 said that the Gambia can wait until May 16, 2024, to submit its pleadings in the case, while the junta regime has until Dec. 16, 2024, to submit its rejoinder.
The deadlines have previously been extended several times by the court, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.
“The Rohingya are frustrated that they have to wait for so long, year after year, to get a solution for the crimes committed by the Myanmar military,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
“I hope this is the last delay,” he said. “The court needs to stop granting the Myanmar military every time it asks for extension of time.”
The Myanmar military’s alleged atrocities against Rohingya included indiscriminate killings, mass rape and village torchings as more than 740,000 fled across the border to Bangladesh.
The crackdown occurred during the tenure of the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who personally defended the military against allegations of genocide at the ICJ in December 2019.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner and one-time democracy icon now languishes in prison — toppled by the same military in a February 2021 coup d’etat.
In February 2022, the National Unity Government, formed by former Myanmar lawmakers who operate as a shadow government in opposition to the military junta, said they recognized the authority of the ICJ to decide if the campaign against Rohingya constituted a genocide, and would withdraw all preliminary objections in the case.
The same year, in July, the ICJ rejected all of the junta’s objections to the case, clearing the way to consider the factual evidence against Myanmar, a process that could take years.
Ro Anamul Hasan, a Rohingya teacher living in one of the refugee camps in Bangladesh, believes the junta is delaying the ICJ trial while it moves forward with a plan to repatriate some Rohingya refugees under a small pilot project.
“The junta is buying time for pilot repatriation,” he told Radio Free Asia. “They think that if pilot repatriation happens, the seriousness of the crime in the ICJ case will be reduced.”
Seven years of waiting
A Rohingya woman, who did not want her identity revealed for the story, told RFA that the delays in the case are frustrating for her.
“It has been seven years of relying on them and waiting for a solution,” she said. “Life in the refugee camp where we live is getting worse day by day.”
NUG spokesman Nay Phone Latt told RFA on Tuesday that “the longer the delay in getting justice, the bolder the perpetrators become.”
RFA’s calls to junta spokesman Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on the extensions went unanswered.
The Rohingya, whose ethnicity is not recognized by the junta regime, have faced decades of discrimination in Myanmar and are effectively stateless. Myanmar administrations have refused to call them “Rohingya” and instead use the term “Bengali.”
Myanmar faces other lawsuits, including one filed in 2019 in Argentina under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” and an authorization by the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity over the alleged forced deportation of the Rohingya.
The Gambia’s complaint, also brought in 2019, was filed on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
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